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All About Stuffing

Whether you call it stuffing, dressing, or filling, that bready side dish that nearly always accompanies the Thanksgiving turkey ranks among the favorite foods served on this November holiday. Indeed, it has become a staple of the American Thanksgiving meal and for many families it’s also a dish that’s enjoyed year round. The perfect complement to all kinds of poultry and even beef and seafood, stuffing is a versatile food that comes in many flavors and there’s so much more to stuffing than the “stuff” you get in the box on your supermarket shelf.

Origins of the Words Stuffing and Dressing

It is believed that the first word for the dish that most resembles what we now know as stuffing was farce. Farce, of course, is a word that is generally used to describe a light-hearted, comic play. In the middle ages, a farce was often “stuffed” in between a showing of two or three rather stodgy religious plays. It kept the audience entertained.

The word “stuffing” as referring to a food item first appears in print in the mid 16th century. The word was used to describe something very similar to what we eat today, but often mixed with chopped meat. In the Victorian era, the word “stuffing” fell out of favor as it was associated with a food eaten by the lower class. Instead, the socialites of that time began to refer to it as “dressing”.

These days, both terms are certainly acceptable, with stuffing used more in the South and East and dressing used more commonly in the Midwest. The word “filling” is often used by particular sects, such as the Pennsylvania Dutch.

What’s In It?

What you put in your homemade stuffing depends on a lot of factors. First of all, you may have an old family recipe that’s a must-have on every Thanksgiving holiday. Also, certain ethnic groups have certain traditions. However, if you’re willing to experiment a bit, there are all sorts of wonderful flavors that can be incorporated into your stuffing. Basically, you need 3 main categories of ingredients:

o Bread (or another starch) – You can use just about any kind but white is the most popular. Wheat bread works well, too, and in the South, cornbread is preferred. You can also use potatoes or rice if you prefer.

o Liquid – Chicken broth is the most commonly used liquid, but you can also try white wine. Use about 2 tablespoons of liquid for every cup of bread or starch used.

o Additional ingredients – This is where you can really experiment. Many people include meat, mostly sausage, but others use shellfish like oysters or shrimp. You’ll also need some seasonings. Experiment with combinations of herbs and add veggies like onions or celery. Also consider using dried fruits like cranberries or raisins.

In or Out of the Bird?

While some families traditionally put the stuffing inside the turkey, most chefs agree that it is better cooked outside the bird. Furthermore, the length of cooking time for your turkey will be significantly reduced if the stuffing isn’t inside the cavity.

In addition, because the stuffing goes into the middle of the uncooked turkey and because bread – the main ingredient - is quite porous the stuffing can absorb the uncooked juices of the turkey, possibly resulting in salmonella poisoning.

If you insist on cooking the stuffing inside the turkey, you’ll need to test the temperature of the stuffing just as you would check the temperature of the turkey to ensure doneness. The stuffing should reach at least 165 degrees in order for it to be safe to eat. However, most chefs maintain that by the time the stuffing gets to that temperature, your turkey is overcooked.